Kitchee SC and Dejan Damjanovic grabbed the headlines in their return to the AFC Champions League on Thursday, but Thailand's Port FC also had plenty of lessons to learn in the 2-0 defeat despite dominating possession and chances.
Roberto opened the scoring for the Hong Kong side in the 37th minute before former FC Seoul and Suwon Samsung Bluewings forward Damjanovic sealed the victory. Damjanovic tied former Korea Republic international Lee Dong-gook as the tournament's top scorer with 37 goals.
Port's Champions League debut dampened by lack of attack
Port have become a force in Thailand in recent years after finishing in the top three on each of the last three seasons -- courtesy of some significant investment from entrepreneur Nualphan Lamsam since her take over from the Port Authority of Thailand in 2015.
The Lions won the Thai FA Cup in 2019 and came close to challenging for the league title in the last couple of domestic seasons. Their debut in the AFC Champions League is another step in the right direction, but one that will require them to move up another gear.
As they learned the hard way at the Buriram Stadium on a rainy Thursday, they cannot afford to pass on opportunities at such a high level. Despite an incredible 73% possession and 15 shots (compared to Kitchee's six), the closest Port came to scoring was when they struck the woodwork not once, but twice.
Coach Sarawut Treephan, however, will still take positives from the defeat especially with debutants John Baggio and Philip Roller both impressing going forward. They will also have familiar surroundings to count on as they play a little over five hours away from their base in Bangkok.
Port, Kitchee may scrap for second as Cerezo expose Guangzhou
The Hong Kong Premier League champions might have won this match, but Sarawut's side could still look to proceed to the knockouts. Cerezo Osaka's 2-0 defeat of Guangzhou FC in the other match means the group is wide open.
The Chinese Super League giants sent their U-23 side featuring five 16-year-olds to Thailand as a result of the travel restrictions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. Fabio Cannavaro has also stayed back, deputising his 35-year-old assistant Liu Zhiyu to lead the group instead.
Hiroaki Okuno and Tiago Pagnussat both found the back of the net with headers for the victorious J1 League side in the early kickoff. Guangzhou's youngsters ended up facing 22 attempts at their goal from Cerezo while only mustering two themselves with none on target.
Kitchee might have taken points off Port in the opening exchange, but with still five games to go, their fates are far from settled.
The Thai debutants have the time and resources to turn things around in the pool. If they can negate Thursday's shortfalls from their game, they might outfox Kitchee and secure knockout football in what could still turn out to be a commendable debut ACL campaign for the Thais.